City of Austin

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Charter proposal would discourage grassroots democracy

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Convention Center plans to retain staff during four years of inactivity

City staff employed by the Convention Center Department could remain on the payroll for four to five years despite closure of the Convention Center itself, according to departmental plans.

Mark Sokolow’s Competence in Question

Posted Monday June 14, 2010 7:01pm
Georgetown City Attorney's
Competence Called Into Question

His Contract Never Legally Executed,
His Support Nearly Nonexistent
Investigative Report by Ken Martin

Mark SokolowThe municipal legal career of Mark Sokolow has seen its ups and downs:

Up: In 1991, Sokolow was hired by the City of League City, Texas.

Down: In February 1996 he was fired as city attorney of League City; he returned the favor by suing the city.

Up: Despite getting canned by League City, he was hired the very next month as city attorney for the City of Port Arthur; a council member in Port Arthur when Sokolow was hired said the council wasn’t aware of what had happened in League City.

Down: Sokolow's lawsuit against League City was so flimsy it was dismissed without getting a trial.

Up: When Sokolow resigned last October to take the job of Georgetown’s city attorney, the Port Arthur city council handed him a hefty bonus.

Up: Sokolow was hired by the City of Georgetown and started work last October 19 for $125,000 a year.

Down: He is working for the City of Georgetown under a contract that was never legally executed.

Down: The Austin Bulldog reported on May 4 how Sokolow facilitated the illegal payment of $13,600 for Georgetown Council Member Pat Berryman last December.

Down: He screwed up a deal to buy property for city facilities, hacked off the school district and embarrassed the city he represents.

Up: After six months on the job the city council evaluated his performance and gave him a $5,000 raise.

Down: He has alienated numerous colleagues. Examples abound, as detailed below.

Down: City staff is rooting for his ouster, though they fear being fired if they speak up.

The defense rests: Sokolow declined to be interviewed for this story.

Hardball tactics blow up in his face
The city wanted to acquire land where it could build a new fire station, police station and storage yard. The most critical element was the new fire station, which was needed to meet response times on fire alarms on the west side of I-35.

The negotiation process for the targeted site had been underway for almost a year when Sokolow got involved. It had taken that long because of the necessity to coordinate the location of the city’s new fire station with an Emergency Services District, which provides fire protection outside the city limits. Settling the terms of a purchase agreement for the city’s tract was to be the final step in closing the deal.

Georgetown City Attorney Hired In Secret

Posted Wednesday April 28, 2010 5:31pm
Updated Friday April 30, 2010
Georgetown City Attorney Hired In Secret
Investigative Report by Ken Martin

The City of Georgetown has legal problems.

On September 8, 2009, the Georgetown City Council made the decision to hire a new, in-house city attorney, Mark Sokolow, in a closed-door executive session. That appears to be a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

James HemphillAttorney Jim Hemphill of the Austin law firm Graves Dougherty Hearon and Moody, serving as a volunteer attorney on behalf of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, described the nature of such a violation.

“While the Open Meetings Act allows deliberation of personnel matters to be held in executive session, it does not have any provision authorizing hiring decisions to be made in executive session,” Hemphill said.

Hemphill pointed to Open Records Decision No. 605, issued by then Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, that states:

“Although deliberation may take place in an executive session, the board may take action to hire an employee only in an open session properly noticed in accordance with section 3A of the Open Meetings Act.”

Strike two
A possible second violation of the Open Meetings Act is also connected to the hiring of Mark Sokolow. This one relates to the description of an agenda item for the executive session. The notice did not adequately describe what the city council was to discuss behind closed doors. The posting for the 6pm session of the September 8, 2009, agenda stated for Item BB:

“Sec. 551.074 Personnel Matters — City attorney.”

Patricia CarlsPatricia “Trish” Carls of the Austin law firm Carls, McDonald and Dalrymple had served as Georgetown’s city attorney for years. She was present and acted in that capacity at the September 8 council meeting. (It is common practice for small cities to contract with outside law firms for legal services rather than hire the staff necessary to provide such services.)

The wording of the agenda item for the executive session is unclear. It could be construed by the public to mean that a discussion of Carls would be undertaken.

What actually occurred, however, was revealed in the minutes of the September 8 council meeting, which under “Action from Executive Session,” reads as follows:

“Motion by (Council Member Pat) Berryman, second by (Council Member Gabe) Sansing that the Human Resources (sic) have the authority to continue his discussions with the

Dogs & Cats on Death Row

About 9,800 words This package of four articles was originally published in The Good Life magazine in August 2001. The result was, by far, the...